Striving to do well is a positive attribute as long as there are no negative consequences for doing so. A healthy desire to excel and achieve high standards is one thing. Perfectionism, though, can be problematic if you evaluate yourself based on self-imposed, highly demanding standards, especially in areas of life that are important to you. Even if you complete a task quite well, you may still criticize yourself for not doing it quickly enough or for not getting it done right the first time.

If your self-worth is based on your ability to achieve perfect standards, you are likely to evaluate yourself as inadequate and suffer from ongoing self-criticism. You may compare yourself to others and believe that you aren’t as capable as they are or that they are evaluating you negatively because you can’t live up to your standards of perfectionism. These comparisons can lead to feeling down about yourself and your accomplishments. What may initially seem like a healthy desire to do an excellent job turns into a problem, sometimes a big problem.

Setting perfectionistic standards can lead to spending an excessive amount of time on work projects or even avoiding them for as long as possible due to the burden of always trying to do a “perfect” job or fearing that you’ll fail to achieve your perfectionistic standards. The costs of striving for perfectionism can be high. Your anxiety about being perfect may lead to making more mistakes. The excessive time you spend on tasks or avoiding tasks may interfere with completing tasks in a timely manner. Problems with perfectionism can interfere with your quality of life in many ways, including maintaining job satisfaction and spending quality time with loved ones and friends. They can contribute to symptoms of anxiety or depression.

Accepting that you are not perfect (i.e., you are human like everyone else!) and that striving to achieve perfectionism paradoxically often works against achieving your desired goals is a giant step toward being free to do your best work without the burden of inflexible, self-imposed standards that often get in your way. Looking at the costs and benefits of striving for perfectionism, completing experiments to test out your beliefs about the consequences of not being perfect, and accepting uncertainty about making mistakes while focusing on the task at hand, are strategies that can help you break free from the constraints of self-imposed perfectionism standards and the negative consequences that often follow.